It's a common scene: You want your child to eat his sprouts and he refuses because they taste gross. No one would blame you for trying to sneak some sprouts into his salad or sandwich. They are low in fat and full of nutrients, especially vitamins C and K. Your fussy child may have been onto something after all, however. Sprouts have been known to carry illness-causing bacteria, and young children are among the highest-risk groups for getting sick.
Bacterial Contamination in Sprouts
All vegetables, when eaten raw, carry some risk of contamination. Because sprouts are grown under warm and humid conditions, they carry extra risk of being infected with Salmonella or E. coli. If your child is over the age of three, chances are that adding some fresh sprouts to his lunch will pose no risk. Younger children's immune systems have not fully developed, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends that those at high risk avoid consuming raw alfalfa sprouts.
Sprouts Recalls in the U.S.
There have been at least 30 outbreaks of food-borne illness in the United States due to sprouts since 1996. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration provided alfalfa producers with new guidelines for eliminating bacteria in the growth of sprouts. Nonetheless, there is always some risk of infection. In 2009, for example, the FDA issued a statement asking consumers to avoid eating all raw alfalfa sprouts because of a Salmonella outbreak.
Making Sprouts Safer
Fresh sprouts remain a risk for children, but there are things you can do to lower the risk of illness. Wash your sprouts carefully and thoroughly. This can clean away a lot of bacteria that the sprouts may carry. Fresh sprouts are delicious, but cooking them kills the bacteria that might make your child sick. Cut away damaged areas on the sprout.
Once you've washed or cooked the sprouts, you've still got to convince your kids to eat them. For younger children, try making a whole grain and veggie face. Using an English muffin as the face, use sliced olives for the eyes, sliced bell pepper for the nose, mouth and ears, thinly sliced carrots or celery for the eyebrows and sprouts for the hair. Assemble your face using a mixture of dressing mix and cream cheese as an edible glue. For older children, add sprouts to a wrap, sandwich or salad. Because sprouts are virtually tasteless, a zesty creamy dressing or spread can make them more enticing.
If you are wary of feeding fresh sprouts to your child, go for a healthy alternative that also contains high levels of vitamins C and K. In general, seek out dark green vegetables. Broccoli and artichokes are high in nutrients and can jazz up a salad as surely as sprouts can. Your child might be even more willing to eat them than sprouts. For a sandwich, replace sprouts with spinach or kale.
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